T-Pain, the pioneer of Autotune, has a lot more to give than just a wacky offbeat sound. With the release of his new album rEVOLVEr, he has "evolved" (see what he did there?) into an artist with a more mature sound and a ton of creative collaborations. MetroLyrics got the chance to chat with T-Pain about his career, his music, and his songwriting process. Let's see what he had to say:
Coming up in Tallahasee, Florida, you were into music from an early age. How did you know you wanted to be in music at such an young age?
Oh man, at some point in our lives, I don't think we get to pick anymore, you know what I'm saying? You know, if I wanted to be a fireman I think I would have been a terrible fireman -laughs- and would have been a musician instead. I don't think we get to pick, man. I think music chose me.
You started your own label Nappy Boy at 20 years old. What has that taught you about the ins and outs of the business?
Oh man — well it taught me how crappy it is -laughs- but I guess you gotta take the good and the bad. It taught me how to move around a lot of stuff and how to deal with people a lot better. I think just having a label made me grow up. That was just a big part of maturing for me, it was a big part of my life.
You're well known for collaborating with artists from all genres of music. How has it been working with so many artists coming from so many places? Did it open you up musically?
Oh yeah, of course. You know, I always ask for pointers from [artists of] different kinds of genres and apply it to [my music]. When I worked with Taylor Swift I asked her, you know, "How do you do this?" "How do you do your harmonies like this?" "When you put out a country song, how do you make sure it's country? What makes it country?" I always ask stuff like that and get the notes and apply it to what I'm doing. It helps make [the song] appeal to all those genres at the same time. I always make a point to make sure I get pointers and write it down in my phone -laughs- and as soon as I leave them I go try it out on my own.
Can you tell me a little bit about your process for writing songs. Where do you look for inspiration when writing your songs?
If I'm going through production, whether it be my production or any other producer, I don't write my songs down. So any kind of production has to give me a feeling. If I don't hear a beat and start thinking of words immediately, I'm not doing the song. Even when people send me stuff to put a hook on, if I can't hear it and immediately start thinking, then it's not gonna be good.
How do you know when a song is done?
There's always that point. A lot of times, if it feels like something's missing — you can tell when a song feels empty and [you're thinking] "What else can go in there?" and you add that one thing and you go "Oh ok, now it's done, now it's done."
Have you ever been surprised by the reception of one of your songs?
Yeah, there's one right now -laughs- "Drownin' Again". It's a song I did a video for that I don't use any autotune on, and I didn't think people were gonna like it but people love it right now!
Let's talk about rEVOLVEr, your brand new album. On the album title, the word "evolve" is highlighted, and you've been vocal about your desire to evolve as an artist. Can you talk a little bit about that evolution and where you see it going?
I mean, I think it was a natural maturity, you know, it was something that was gonna happen if I wanted it to or not. A lot of people grow out of things and get into new things and if you're a musician your music has to do that too. You can't just concentrate on the music and you can't just concentrate on your personal life, they both have to evolve at the same time. Also, being that I don't write down anything on paper, it all comes from my heart, so if my heart grows and if my brain grows, so does my music. It's just a natural evolution and that's why I picked the title; it's really just what has been going on in my life.
Your single, "5 O'clock" samples Lily Allen's song "Who'd Have Known". What about that song struck you particularly?
I think it was just the melody. The melody and those chords at the beginning are just amazing. I had only heard that song one time before I sampled it and that was over the phone -laughs- so it was just amazing man, and I knew exactly what I could do to it, and what I could do with it and once I got the blessing from Lily saying I could use it, that was automatic.
Your ringtones have sold over 8 million. How do you feel when you're in public and you hear a T-Pain ringtone?
Oh of course! Most of the time it's people calling themselves. It's weird, like, people always make their ringtones go off around me. My reaction is sometimes like "Ok, come on now. That just happened. Just now." -laughs- I've heard those ringtones [of my songs] that people have made themselves and I'm like "Where'd you get that from?"
In addition to your albums, you've released two mixtapes. How important are mixtapes to staying relevant in hip-hop these days?
Mixtapes were definitely used to stay relevant. I think nowadays though, people drop mixtapes so their album won't get leaked. I think people are using that more as [a plead] "Here's 25 songs. Please don't leak my album! This should hold you over 'til my album comes out." -laughs-
You've also got a bit of a comedic side, notably teaming up with Taylor Swift for the spoof song "Thug Story" as well as The Lonely Island guys for "I'm On A Boat". Is that something you enjoy doing?
Yeah man, it has to be there man. I don't want to turn my career into a job. I want it to be fun. There's nothing better than having fun and loving what you do instead of having to get up and say "Ugh, I don't wanna go to work today."
You can find his album rEVOLVEr for purchase on iTunes here!